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With election looming, Republicans rally around in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida Senate Republicans rallied Tuesday around a proposal that would grant in-state tuition to children of undocumented immigrants, risking the wrath of tea party conservatives in a bid to woo Hispanic voters to their side this election year.

The Judiciary Committee approved the measure (SB 1400) on a 7-2 vote. The House last month OK’d similar legislation with the support of Democrats and more than half the Republican caucus, with House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel spearheading the change.

The Senate still looms as a wild card. But sponsor Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said after Tuesday’s vote, ”We’ve still got a ways to go. But I feel very good about this.”

While differences remain, Latvala said he will propose recasting the Senate version so it matches the House proposal. That would require that students complete four years of high school in Florida — up from a three-year standard that remains in the Senate proposal.

Other provisions of the bill eliminate an annual cost-of-living increase which currently can boost tuition even when the Legislature and colleges and universities seek to hold the line. While the Senate proposal also would erase the ability of state universities to increase tuition by as much as 15 percent annually, Latvala said he plans to go along with the House approach that rolls that potential hike back to a maximum of six percent.

The measure also would assure that undocumented students are “residents for tuition purposes,” making them ineligible for state-financed scholarships. Students could pay the in-state rate if they enroll in a Florida college or university within two years of graduating from secondary school. Average nonresident tuition is $21,434 annually, compared with the in-state average of $6,318.

While Gov. Rick Scott supports the proposal, testimony Tuesday before the Senate panel showed how divisive the proposal remains within the state GOP.

James Calkins, a Republican activist from Santa Rosa County, urged Senate Republicans to oppose the legislation, saying it would “clearly damage our get-out-the-vote effort for 2014.”

“The issue will divide the Republican Party at a time when the party needs to stay united,” Calkins said.

Similar legislation has been around since at least 2001 — promoted chiefly by Miami-Dade County Republicans and most Democrats.

But Florida’s shifting demographics have caught the attention of strategists for both parties. With a bruising governor’s race underway, the tuition bill may emerge as a GOP peace offering to Hispanics, increasingly siding with Democratic candidates.

Election year school funding proposal earns nothing but shrug from Senate

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 by John Kennedy

After Rick Scott pushed $1 billion increases in school funding the past two years, Senate Republicans were unimpressed Wednesday by the state Education Department’s proposal for a $386.6 million boost in 2014, when the governor will be running for re-election.

The recommendation would bump up per-pupil spending by a modest 1.87 percent, or $126.77 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million students.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, quizzed state officials who presented the spending proposal to the Senate’s education budget committee. He said that with rising insurance and transportation costs rippling through school districts, the increase could quickly disappear.

The budget panel’s chairman, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said spending talks are at an early stage. But he was hesitant about making big promises for the election-year budget months before the Legislature convenes in March.

Galvano, though, said politics won’t be what drives the bottom line.

“We’re going to base the budget on what’s needed, and in an efficient and effective manner,” Galvano said. “It’s not going to be based on politics. Last year, there was a substantial increase” largely attributed to $480 million earmarked for teacher pay raises.

State educators, though, did seem to make a concession to Scott’s push for holding the line on college and university tuition increase. Neither proposal outlined Wednesday by the state’s college system and Board of Governors includes a proposed tuition hike.

Scott chides Obama for being late to higher-ed cost cutting

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Rick Scott chided the Obama administration Thursday for being late to a drive the Republican governor has tried to lead in Florida — lowering the cost of university tuition.

Speaking at the University of Buffalo, President Obama announced plans Thursday for a federal rating system that would allow parents to compare the cost and quality of colleges. The proposal, which likely faces a tough road through Congress, also would tie the distribution of $150 billion in federal aid to students to this rating system.

“The president is certainly late to the party on making higher education more affordable, but we are glad he’s here,” Scott said.

Scott has condemned rising university tuition in Florida but only this year managed to put the brakes on what had been almost 20 straight years of tuition increases. A 1.7 percent automatic, cost-of-living increase was the only hike allowed at most schools this year — after double-digit hikes dominated last year.

Last year, however, the hefty tuition hikes were largely forced by a $300 million cut universities were forced to shoulder in a budget signed by Scott.

The governor also said the White House could learn from other steps Florida has taken, including the introduction of a handful of $10,000 degree programs at the state’s two-dozen colleges.

“We are focused on improving the value of higher education for students and parents by fighting tuition hikes and rewarding schools that graduate students who get jobs,” Scott said. “Just this year, we passed a budget that included $20 million in performance funding for universities tied to graduates who find jobs, the salary of those jobs, and the cost of their degree.

“Florida is taking the lead in making higher education more affordable and the nation is starting to follow,” he concluded.

Congressional reaction to Obama’s plan broke along party lines, with many Republicans skeptical of the rating system. Among the harsher critics: Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who clearly didn’t view the plan the same as his state’s governor.

“I’m strongly opposed to his plan to impose new federal standards on higher education institutions,” Rubio said. “This is a slippery slope, and one that ends with the private sector inevitably giving up more of its freedom to innovate and take risks.

“The U.S. did not create the best higher education system in the world by using standards set by Washington bureaucrats,” Rubio said.


Universities chief Frank Brogan to leave for Penn post

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Frank Brogan, head of Florida’s State University System since 2009 and a former president of Florida Atlantic University, said Wednesday that he will be leaving the chancellor’s post for a similar job in Pennsylvania on Oct. 1.

“Florida’s university system is on a clear path toward greater prominence and relevance thanks to the support and dedication of the Board of Governors, university leaders, faculty and staff,” Brogan said. “It’s never easy to leave a place you
love, but it is so much easier knowing that Florida is poised for a bright future.”

Brogan has been a political Zelig in Florida. A former teacher, Martin County schools superintendent, elected to the then-Cabinet post of Education Commissioner as a Republican and lieutenant governor under former Gov. Jeb Bush before leaving for FAU, Brogan’s Florida career spans 35 years.

His service as Florida chancellor was already winding down. He had joined the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and was expected to step down within the next two years.

Instead, the 59-year-old Brogan looks ready to revive his academic career as chancellor of the Pennsylvania System of Higher Education, overseeing 14 universities and 115,000 students. Florida has 12 public universities and 335,000 students.

“We were looking for a strong administrator and a transformational leader who will collaborate with traditional and non-traditional stakeholders representing divergent views on what is best for our students and their families,” said Pennsylvania
Board of Governors Chairman Guido M. Pichini.

“Frank Brogan will be that leader,” Pichini added. “He has had an impressive record of success throughout his
career. He understands the many complexities and challenges facing public higher education and the vital role public universities play both in preparing students for a lifetime of their own success and in ensuring the economic vitality of the state. We are excited about him becoming our next chancellor.”

In Florida, Brogan managed to be a deft diplomat, balancing the demands of universities seeking higher tuition with a push by Gov. Rick Scott to hold the line on student costs. The struggle played out against the backdrop of a system where taxpayer support has fallen 20 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past two decades.

Gov. Rick Scott has made higher education a focus of his administration. He has ridiculed Florida universities for steering students toward undergraduate degrees not easily converted toward careers. Scott appointments now also make up a majority of the State University System’s Board of Governors, Brogan’s bosses.

For Scott, Brogan’s departure represents another top state post in need of filling. In a two-week period, Florida’s social services chief and the state education commissioner both resigned, while the post of lieutenant governor has been empty since Jennifer Carroll quit last spring.

Scott said Wednesday that Brogan will be missed.

“Frank Brogan has had an incredible career in public service – especially in education,” Scott said. “Florida’s education system has benefited from his hard work and his commitment to providing every Florida child with a quality education. His
service will be greatly missed by education leaders throughout the state.

“I have no doubt, however, that he will continue working to provide families with more opportunities, so they can live their version of the American Dream.”

Scott rips Congress for student loan hike

Monday, July 1st, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott ripped Congress for allowing interest rates on some federal student loans to double Monday, saying it was “irresponsible” for lawmakers to go on July 4 recess without reaching a compromise.

“Doubling the interest rate on federal college loans effectively kills the chance for many Florida families to live the American Dream,” Scott said. “This is equivalent to a $936 tax on Florida families per loan each year.

He added, “As I call for Florida’s colleges and universities to hold the line on tuition, Washington bureaucrats must come back to work together on behalf of Florida’s families and students.”

About 7.4 million university students effectively saw rates on their federal Stafford loans jump to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent on Monday, after the Senate was unable to reach agreement on extending the lower rate.  The Obama administration and most Democrats had been expecting more fiscally conservative Republican leaders to abandon the student loan standoff had they had last year, when they agreed to continue 3.4 percent rate another year.

The interest rate difference will add an extra $2,600 cost per-student, analysts said. About one-quarter of all federal student loans are affected.

Although Scott allowed tuition to climb in Florida his first two years as governor, this spring he vetoed a 3 percent college and university tuition hike approved by state lawmakers. He then lobbied schools and the State University System’s Board of Governors to work to reject a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase that automatically kicked in, although only Florida Atlantic University and Florida Gulf Coast University agreed to offset the boost.

“Florida’s students and families now face higher education costs because Washington bureaucrats were unable to work together on behalf of America’s students,” Scott said. “Fewer students will now be able to attend college and get jobs that require
degrees because Washington chose politics over our families.”

Lawmakers, however, have said they can return the interest rates to 3.4 percent when they  return after the July 4 holiday. The Republican-led House passed a bill before leaving town tying  student loan interest rates to the financial markets, but the Democratic-controlled Senate was ensnared in a procedural matter that halted action.

A study released last year showed 49 percent of Florida public university graduates owed money when they finished school.

The average $21,184 debt for Florida students in 2010 was below the $25,250 national average, according to the Project on Student Debt by the Institute for College Access & Success.

Florida ranked 42nd among states in the percentage of students graduating with debt.


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Fee hikes shunned, but Scott’s tuition pitch fails to move universities

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Only Florida Atlantic University and Florida Gulf Coast University have bowed to Rick Scott’s demand that they shun a 1.7 percent cost-of-living tuition increase, but the Republican governor did manage to get state schools Thursday to drop plans for similarly modest fee increases.

The State University System’s Board of Governors wrapped up three days of meetings at the University of South Florida in Tampa with no real discussion of the tuition bump Scott was looking to avert.

But the 17-member board, now with a majority appointed by Scott, did reject an annual $60 construction fee increase sought by most universities that would have been paid by students.

Scott last month stepped-up his focus on student costs by vetoing a 3 percent tuition hike approved by the Legislature for Florida colleges and universities. The inflation increase, though, is part of state law and takes effect when no tuition boost is approved.

Only FAU and FGCU have gone along with Scott’s pitch and agreed to reduce their base tuition to offset the inflation bump.

While the increase at other schools looms as an asterisk on what could prove a potent Scott political claim, when classes resume this fall it will mark the first time since 1995-96 that there has not been a significant spike in tuition.

Scott for weeks had been trying to erase even the 1.7 percent rise, sending letters to administrators at the state’s 12 public universities, calling a tuition hike, “a tax increase on our families that must be stopped.”

Although he let tuition increases become law his first two years as governor, Scott dug in this spring — with a re-election campaign on the horizon.

In a last ditch effort Wednesday, while on a trade mission in France, Scott sent another letter to university leaders urging they hold the line on fees.

Scott, who last year allowed a $300 million cut in higher education to become law, said in the letter that he wants to continue moving the system away from a rising reliance on tuition toward rewarding schools with more taxpayer funding for serving students better.

“I look forward to our work together next year to continue shifting the burdens of higher education funding away from the pocketbooks of students and families and onto a system that rewards universities showing results in serving our students,” Scott wrote.

Scott makes final pitch for holding the line on tuition

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has sent the State University System Board of Governors a stern message as they near Thursday’s end of a three-day budget and planning session: Hold the line on tuition.

Scott, who is still in France on a trade mission, sent an open letter to the 17-member board meeting at the University of South Florida. In it, he echoes his pitch for them to reject any proposals for tuition or fee hikes from Florida’s 12 public universities.

Although no formal tuition boost is on the table, schools are positioned by state law to pass an automatic, 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase onto students. Scott wants universities to offset this boost by reducing current the current tuition rate or other fees — something a handful of schools earlier pledged.

“While I am incredibly appreciative of the progress we have made, it is equally important that we remain vigilant on increases in fees paid by our students and their families,” Scott wrote.  “Their ability to get an education and a great job is our most important charge.  I would ask that you consider those students and families first as you prepare to vote on the university fee increase proposals.”

Since January, a majority of the panel has been comprised of Scott appointees. The full board is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon.


Senate bows to House and OK’s 3 percent tuition hike

Friday, April 26th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott’s legislative agenda headed further into the ditch Friday night, as the Senate finally bent to the House’s will and accepted a 3 percent tuition increase for college and university students.

Scott has long opposed a tuition increase. And he had an ally in the Senate for the course of the legislative session, even as the House pushed for a 6 percent hike.

But as the two sides labored into a second weekend on differences in a $74-billion-plus spending plan, the Senate finally offered to meet the House halfway, recommending a 3 percent boost. The House accepted.

Senate Budget Chief Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and his House counterpart, Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, also agreed to $70 million for Everglades funding, settling on the Senate’s starting position and slightly more than Scott requested in his budget proposal.

Scott also continues to face a challenge from lawmakers on his bid for $2,500-across-the-board teacher pay hikes.

Negron and McKeel agreed to meet Scott’s $480 million pot of money for the raises, but they want the money distributed based on job performance and to include a larger pool of instructional personnel that would shrink what goes directly to teachers.

The two sides plan to continue talks tomorrow.

With $1 billion more for schools, education conferees hand keys to budget bosses

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

Budget conferees working on education — the biggest-ticket item in the state’s $74-billion-plus spending plan — effectively abandoned efforts late Monday toward reaching a final agreement.

The House’s push for 6 percent college and university tuition increases, and the Senate’s demand that state scholarship programs including Bright Futures funding avoid any cuts were among a handful of areas dividing House and Senate negotiators.

Public school funding does look generally on track to receive slighly more than a $1 billion funding increase next fall. Gov. Rick Scott had sought a $1.2 billion increase, that had initially been matched by the Senate.

“We made a good faith effort…and I thought we could get there,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, the House’s lead negotiator on schools, after a final round of talks yielded no overall agreement late Monday.

Scott and the Senate are rejecting any talk of tuition increases. And the House earlier reduced its 6 percent demand to 4 percent — only to ratchet its tuition proposal back up to 6 percent in its final offer as it sought agreement in other education areas.

Fresen’s counterpart, Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the two sides had settled plenty of lesser matters. But big policy differences still divide lawmakers.

Next stop: Budget chairs, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, will take a stab at the work for a few days, beginning tomorrow evening. They’ll have a chance to rope into their deal-making a wide range of spending differences in environmental, economic development and health and human service programs.

Lawmakers have to button-up the budget by early next week for the session to conclude on time, May 3.

House education budget pumps up spending, tuition

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida House would increase school spending by $395 per-pupil next year while also allowing Florida colleges and universities to boost tuition by 6 percent, under an education budget released Wednesday.

Education Budget chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said the spending plan is also likely to include $2,500 teacher pay raises — a priority of Gov. Rick Scott. Details are still being worked out.

“Right now, we are exceeding it,” Fresen said of the pay-raise effort.

But there are clear areas of friction.

Scott has recommended a $412-per-pupil increase — bringing spending to $6,800 for each of Florida’s 2.7 million students. That’s edging closer to the state’s high-water mark, $7,126 reached during the pre-recession 2006-07 school year.

Scott also reiterated his opposition Tuesday to tuition increases.

“I’m against tuition increases. This is a tax, this is a tax on students, it is a tax on families. We can’t be raising the cost of getting a higher education in this state,” Scott said.

Among the more controversial provisions of the House budget is what Fresen called a recalibration of the state’s school funding formula. The rewrite changes how students taking online classes are calculated — a move which supporters of Florida Virtual School — condemed Wednesday.

Florida Virtual School is the nation’s largest K-12 online system. It’s been used by many students to take a seventh class — above the standard six offered by many school districts — and in rural counties where online students can access classes not available in classrooms, supporters said.

Vern Pickup-Crawford, lobbyist for the Palm Beach County School Board, said the revamped formula would likely cost the county about $5 million.


Scott gets all of Florida’s four-year colleges to embrace $10K challenge

Monday, January 28th, 2013 by John Kennedy

After catching heat from even a member of the state’s Board of Education, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that all 23 of Florida’s colleges that offer bachelor’s degrees have embraced his call for making available a $10,000 degree program.

Scott has been pushing to make higher education more affordable, ridiculing Florida’s universities for moving forward with tuition increases. The state college system, however, has ben more willing to follow Scott’s lead — and the governor Monday went to Miami Dade College’s north campus to announce a clean sweep of the four-year degree schools.

“Our goal should be that students do not have to go into debt in order to obtain a degree,” Scott said.

The cut-rate programs, like the four-year degrees at colleges, will be limited. Palm Beach State’s four-year degrees, are currently available only in business supervision and management, information technology and nursing.  Normally, they cost $13,200 over four years, roughly the state average .

Board of Education vice-chairman Roberto Martinez dismissed Scott’s proposal last fall as a “gimmick.” But Martinez’s two-terms on the board ended Dec. 31.

While the State College System was given the go-ahead by the Legislature to increase tuition 5 percent this year, colleges have largely escaped Scott’s scorn. In part, it may be because many of their programs are viewed as providing skills for current work force needs.

Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida College System, said last fall that he expected most individual colleges to go along with offering at least one job-oriented degree program at the lower rate to get students out into the local work force.

Scott’s idea isn’t original. Texas Gov. Rick Perry aired a similar challenge in that state in 2012. Since then, 10 universities have offered $10,000 degrees.

Critics have warned the initiative could lead to states sacrificing some level of quality education by deploying adjunct professors and teaching assistants to reduce costs to meet the $10,000 standard. Others also have said publicly financed scholarships may have to be beefed-up to reduce the cost to students.

Scott reshapes state university board

Thursday, January 10th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Republican Rick Scott named five new members Thursday to the board of governors leading Florida’s universities – giving him a powerful hold on a panel that earlier resisted his calls for lower tuition and cost-cutting.

The five new appointees include H. Wayne Huizenga, Jr., 51, of Delray Beach,  son of the South Florida investor and former
sports team owner, and Wendy Link, 48, of Palm Beach  Gardens, managing partner of a law firm
bearing her name.

With the five new selections, Scott appointees now comprise nine-members of the 17-person State University System Board of Governors. The new members get seven-year terms and must be confirmed by the Florida Senate.

By adding new allies, the governor likely fortifies his drive to retool Florida’s university system, which he sees as central to the push to expand the state’s economy and create jobs.

“Gov. Rick Scott has chosen a group of well-qualified individuals, with broad ranges of skills and experience,” said Board Chair Dean Colson, an appointee of Scott’s predecessor, Gov. Charlie Crist. “They join the Board of Governors at a time when there is a heightened awareness of the importance of higher education to the citizens of our state.”

Universities would freeze tuition — for a price

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 by John Kennedy

University presidents and student leaders Wednesday said schools would put a temporary moratorium on tuition increases if Florida lawmakers approve $118 million in new funding next year.

The offer was part of  the Aim Higher campaign unveiled at the state Capitol, a public relations offensive rolled out three months before the start of the legislative session. The push is designed to underscore the role universities play in sparking economic development in Florida — while also building a case for more taxpayer support.

The $118 million would be spread across Florida’s 12 public universities. Universities want it to come on top of the Legislature restoring the $300 million cut from universities last year — a decision that helped fuel the latest round of tuition increases, which this fall ranged from 9 percent to 15 percent.

University of Florida President Bernard Machen said Wednesday that dollars have to come either from taxpayers or tuition, but that supporting universities is “vital to this state.”

Gov. Rick Scott opposed the tuition hikes and appears poised to dig-in again when lawmakers return to Tallahassee for the spring legislative session. But University of West Florida President Judy Bense said that if lawmakers grant the $118 million increase, “We promise not to seek one penny of a tuition increase this year.”

Still, the University of Florida and Florida State University plan to seek legislative approval for a measure that would allow them to hike tuition to the “market rate” — effectively whatever students will pay. Earlier this year, Scott vetoed the legislation, but UF, FSU and other schools which could later qualify for the tuition privilege support making another attempt at convincing the governor this year.

While the average annual tuition to a Florida public university has spiked in recent years to $6,232 this fall, Florida’s cost ranks only 41st highest in the nation among public university systems.

The $300 million reduction in taxpayer funding this year came after taxpayer dollars tumbled 24 percent the preceding four years, heightening the focus on tuition.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, the Senate’s budget chairman, said he agreed that more money should flow into education — but stopped short of endorsing the pitch made by university leaders.

Scott, who has criticized Florida schools for seeking tuition increases while still handing out robust salaries to administrators, embraced the leaders’ commitment to freeezing tuition. But Scott, too, didn’t advance the request for additional funding.

“We know Florida families want the best value possible from our higher education system, which means we have to make advanced degrees more affordable and more connected to
students’ ability to get a great job when they graduate,” Scott said.  “We are pleased to share this important goal with many of Florida’s finest higher education leaders who are committed to holding the line on tuition.”



Scott issues $10,000 challenge to state colleges

Monday, November 26th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott, who has been trying to rein-in the cost of higher education in Florida, fired off a challenge Monday to state college leaders — urging they create bachelor’s degree programs costing no more than $10,000.

Such degrees at Florida state colleges — formerly known as community colleges — currently average $13,264, said Randy Hanna, chancellor of the Florida College System.

“Today, what I’m doing is saying to our state colleges, ‘Can you come up with $10,000-degrees, where people can get great jobs…so you could live your version of the American dream,’” Scott told a Tampa television station, before announcing his proposal in an appearance at St. Petersburg College.

Most of Scott’s earlier questioning of higher education costs have been directed at the State University System, where the latest round of tuition increases of from 9 percent to 15 percent, have boosted the average annual rate to $6,232 this fall — 41st highest in the nation.

But the State College System now serves almost 900,000 students, with enrollment rising with the slow economy.

Hanna said the “logistics still have to be worked out,” on the governor’s challenge. But Hanna said he expected individual colleges to embrace the idea of offering at least one popular degree program at the lower rate that is aimed at getting students out into the local work force.

Democrats putting education “front and center” in legislative campaigns

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

Florida’s ruling Republicans are undermining their own pledge to boost the state’s economy by shifting millions of dollars away from public education, former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and state Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith said Wednesday.

Flanked by a dozen university students, Graham and Smith expanded on what has become a steady campaign theme this fall for Democrats in state House and Senate races across the state.

Graham, who also served as Florida governor from 1979-87, said Republicans have come close to reversing the state’s longstanding commitment to universities, which in his time had taxpayers covering 75 percent of college costs and students paying 25 percent.

“We can’t continue down this course if we aspire to be a state where young people want to plant their personal flags,” Graham said.

The Legislature cut university spending $300 million this year, while restoring $1 billion to public schools which had shouldered a $1.3 billion reduction in 2011.  Tuition was increased between 9 percent and 15 percent at the state’s 11 universities, in the latest round of several years of steep hikes.

Florida Republicans have defended the actions. Lawmakers have had to deal with multibillion dollar budget shortfalls since the recession hardened in 2007.  With analysts predicting a slight surplus next year, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has lately joined the chorus calling for more dollars for schools.

But with the federal government also reducing financial aid programs, Graham concluded, “At all levels, higher education is under assault.”

Graham and Smith said the budget cuts, combined with a slow economy, are making it increasingly difficult for Florida students to attend state universities. Meanwhile, students attending Wednesday’s news conference with the Democratic leaders also told of struggling to enroll in the classes they needed, or being forced to attend school for an additional academic year because of budget cuts.

“We have demonstrably devalued education in this state,” Smith said.

Smith said Democratic candidates in legislative races have made the difficulties families face with education a central part of their campaign pitch.

“In almost every one of our House races and in the Senate races we are involved in, you’re hearing about education again,” Smith said. “It is front and center, because families in Florida, when they sit down at the breakfast table, are worried about not only jobs for themselves, but jobs for their children and grandchildren.”

While Graham decried rising student costs, he is expected to be in attendance Thursday at the Florida Supreme Court for a case he started and which critics say could spur tuition rates even higher. Graham is the lead party in a 2007 lawsuit over whether the State University System Board of Governors — or the Legislature — is empowered to set tuition.

Lower courts have ruled against Graham, whose side says a 2002 constitutional amendment makes it clear that it is solely the board’s responsibility to set tuition rates.

Under current law, the Legislature has authority to set tuition increases, and universities can add an additional increase so long as the total tuition increase year-over-year does not exceed 15 percent.


Scott doesn’t think board will grant “significant” tuition hikes

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday that he didn’t expect leaders of the state university system to approve much in the way of tuition increases, saying he thought they shared the same goals.

Scott’s comments came shortly after Florida Atlantic University President M.J. Saunders made her school’s pitch for a 15 percent tuition hike at the Board of Governors’ meeting in Orlando, which is considering 2012-13 “work plans” for Florida’s 11 public universities.

The plans include academic and enrollment goals, spending proposals and performance data. But for the universities this year, money is key.

Most are seeking 15 percent boosts to at least partially offset a $300 million budget cut to schools imposed by the Florida Legislature. Scott is unfazed.

“I believe the Board of Governors is going to look at those work plans,” Scott said following an address to a Rotary Club in Tallahassee. “I think they have the same goals as I have. They’re going to watch out how the money is spent. You know I’m very concerned about tuition.”

Scott said that given the economic pressure on Florida’s families and the debt students are currently carrying, “I’ll be surprised if there’s significant tuition increases.”

Scott, however, isn’t authorized to block any increase granted by the board, which is expected to vote Thursday. Scott sidestepped a question about whether he was exploring ways to challenge any tuition hike — if it came to that.

Saunders told the Board’s Strategic Planning Committee reviewing the work plans that FAU has shouldered a $77 million decline in state dollars from 2008 through last year, before facing a $24.7 million reduction this fall. Without a 15 percent tuition hike, the school has warned that 500 course offerings could be threatened, along with 75 faculty and 9 advisor positions.

FAU already plans to close its downtown Fort Lauderdale tower campus and Treasure Coast campus in Port St. Lucie, moving programs to the school’s nearby branches.

“We knew that if we were to keep our university strong, we had to reduce our administrative overhead,” Saunders said.


Fla Council of 100 to Scott: Sign FSU-UF tuition hikes; veto USF-Poly breakup

Friday, April 13th, 2012 by John Kennedy

The Florida Council of 100, whose leaders include many of the state’s top corporate executives, urged Gov. Rick Scott to veto legislation that would create a 12th public university by separating the University of South Florida from its Polytechnic campus in Lakeland.

But the council said Scott should sign into law a separate measure (SB 7129) that would let Florida State University and the University of Florida raise tuition to whatever level the market will bear.

“Florida’s public postsecondary system has a historic opportunity to take a quantum leap that will ultimately mean more jobs and economic prosperity for Floridians,” wrote Steven Halverson, council chairman and president of the Haskell Company, a Jacksonville structural design company.

Halverson said the tuition bill follows the principles outlined in the counci’s 2010 report, Closing the Talent Gap, which called for bringing the state’s educational programs in line with future economic needs.

But the legislation accelerating the independence of USF’s Polytechnic campus isn’t a wise investment, Halverson wrote in a separate letter to Scott. He said the Polytechnic proposal hasn’t been adequately studied.

“The Council of 100 wholeheartedly supports making our state university system the best in the country,” Halverson concluded. “The future of Florida depends on it. Deciding where and how to invest scarce resources to achieve that objective should be the product of a fact-based, thorough analysis of the return on investment. That analysis hasn’t been done…”


House approves tuition hikes for UF and FSU

Friday, March 2nd, 2012 by Dara Kam

The Florida House signed off on a plan to allow Florida State University and the University of Florida to set higher tuition than the state’s nine other public universities in a move to boost the two institutions’ national prominence.

The passage of the bill (HB 7129) is the latest effort in a decades-long attempt to create a tiered university system, something GOP leaders say is necessary for Florida’s higher ed system to compete with other states’ universities.

The bill allows research universities that meet certain standards – right now, UF and FSU – to charge higher tuition and fees than the other universities and also authorizes those universities to establish required courses for certain students.

Critics of the plan, which the House passed 85-28, say the hikes impose too much of a financial burden on already cash-strapped poor students.

California has seven Association of American Universities “pre-eminent” research universities, while Florida has just one, the bill sponsor Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said.

“That’s shameful,” Proctor, the chancellor of the private Flagler College and a former member of the state Board of Education. Proctor said his plan will help Florida compete for businesses who want to relocate to regions with premiere research universities.

“Nothing is as important to economic recovery to this state as what you do to the state universities,” Proctor said.

Tuition at UF, FSU and three other universities has climbed 60 percent over the past four years, and 45 percent at five other schools, including Florida Atlantic University. Universities can seek as much as a 15 percent tuition hike each year but require approval for the increases from the universities’ Board of Governors, which has not rejected any university’s tuition request.

Rep. Dwight Bullard, a teacher, called the measure irresponsible.

“If we’re supposed to be up here looking out for the best interests of our constituents, we can’t go about doing tuition increases that large,” Bullard, D-Miami, said.

FAU among schools still sweating size of budget cut

Thursday, March 1st, 2012 by John Kennedy

House and Senate budget negotiators have agreed to cut $300 million from universities this year — which lawmakers say can be eased if schools tap rich reserves they’re sitting on.

But Florida Atlantic University is among several schools warily watching how the final deal is structured.  Many also have questioned Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander’s characterization that Florida’s 11 public universities have more than $800 million in reserves.

FAU President M.J. Saunders described the Senate’s initial plan to cut $400 million as “disastrous.” It would have sliced $47 million from the Boca Raton-based university, costing it about one-third of its operating budget.

Under the smaller reduction, FAU is looking at losing between $23.1 million and $27.2 million, officials said. But the school’s cushion for softening this cut isn’t as large as lawmakers claimed. FAU’s  purported $66 million reserve is actually closer to $16 million, when a range of spending commitments and already planned reductions are deducted, official said.

Meanwhile, budget writers have agreed to keep talk of university tuition increases out of the state’s roughly $70 billion budget. Colleges are now in line for a 5 percent tuition hike, under an agreement between House and Senate conferees. But Gov. Rick Scott has said he doesn’t want tuition increases this year.

No matter what lawmakers recommend, Florida universities can still seek as much as 15 percent tuition hikes from the State University System’s Board of Governors. Scott appoints members of the board. But he has no apparent ability to block board approval of a tuition boost.


Colson says universities now close to fat free

Thursday, February 16th, 2012 by John Kennedy

University budget cuts loom and the Legislature is divided over talk of tuition increases.

But Dean Colson, chairman of the State University System’s Board of Governors, said Thursday that lawmakers’ criticism overlooks the level of belt-tightening Florida’s 11 public universities have already endured.

“I understand the need to push us to make cuts to get rid of fat,” Colson said, after testifying before the House Education Committee.  “But the last four years, we’ve gotten rid of $500 million worth of fat, so I’m not sure there’s that much fat left.”

The Senate budget committee approved a state spending plan Wednesday that reduces state support for universities by $400 million, including a $47 million cut for Florida Atlantic University. The FAU reduction amounts to about one-third of the school’s operating budget.

The Senate plan also doesn’t include a tuition increase, although budget chief J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, acknowledges that universities can seek up to 15 percent tuition hikes from Colson’s board. Alexander said universities should first draw down the more than $800 million in reserves they hold.

Colson, though, isn’t so sure about how easy it’ll be to tap the cash.

“There’s an explanation for most of that money,” Colson said, adding, “but if some have hoarded that extra money, it’s okay to squeeze them for it.”

Gov. Rick Scott has rejected the pitch for tuition increases. And Colson also distanced himself from another level of Scott criticism: That universities should work on reducing the robust salaries drawn by many of the school’s top admininstrators.

“The president of the university of Florida is running a $4 billion, $5 billion operation. What should he get paid? You can’t pay him $200,000-a-year,” Colson said.

Indeed, UF President Bernie Machen earned almost $524,000 in 2009-10, according to the most recent review of presidential pay, compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Colson said that whether Scott or the Legislature endorse a tuition increase, he expects universities will come to the Board of Governors to seek approval for as much as a 15 percent hike next year. But he conceded that less certain is how the board will rule on those requests. 


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